Staunton, September 15 – Russians are more hostile to North Caucasians who are also citizens of the Russian Federation than they are to Central Asians who are not, a pattern that represents a threat to the territorial integrity of the country, according to Leokadiya Drobizheva, one of Moscow’s most senior and distinguished specialists on inter-ethnic relations.
The head of the Moscow Center for Research on Inter-Ethnic Relations made that comment last week at a press conference of experts devoted to the question “Why Have Migrants Become a Trump Card in the Moscow Election Race and How Should Russia Respond to Growing Inter-Ethnic Tensions?”(kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230099/).
Drobizheva who has won an international reputation for her work over four decades said that “even in developed democratic countries,” politicians and activists often talk about an ethnically “pure” country, but the danger in Russia is that “because of migrantophobia, we can simply tear apart the country.”
Recent studies show, the Moscow scholar said, that “30 percent of the population continuously feels a negative relationship to people of other nationalities.” That percentage is “within international norms.” Attitudes toward immigrants are “worse,” with feelings about Chechens and Daghestanis even worse than toward residents of the Central Asian region.”
“This is a disturbing tendency,” Drobizheva said. In Moscow, 67-70 percent of the population have negative feelings about immigrants, figures that are somewhat worse than those elsewhere. And, she stressed, these attitudes are about immigrants rather than about people of a different nationality.
Ninety percent of Muscovites say they have a friend who is a member of another nationality, and “no more than 30 percent” have a negative attitude toward inter-ethnic marriages. But 60 to 70 percent are negative about immigrants, not as a result of government policy but rather because of how such people act in violation of local norms.
But until recently, Drobizheva noted, Muscovites did not say much about this because they thought it better not to. “However, now, when representatives of the authorities make declarations about it, many [ordinary citizens] also are beginning to speak openly” about their feelings in this regard.
A second participant in the press conference, Boris Kagarlitsky who heads the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements said it was important not to confuse migration and immigration as has often happened.
“Employers are interested in the use of semi-slave labor of illegal migrants than they are in civilized immigration,” he said. What needs to happen is for migrants to be replaced by immigrants and for the government to enforce its labor laws, something it is not now doing at least in this area.
The main line of conflict, Kagarlitsky added, is “not between ‘Russians and non-Russians’ or between Christians and Muslims, but between ‘urban people’ and ‘rural ones.’” The government must get involved in adapting those coming from rural areas to the values of the urban population.
A third speaker, Lidiya Grafova who heads the Forum of Resettlement Organizations pointed out that politicians often talk about immigrants during election campaigns because the latter do not vote. But another, Yury Moskovsky, another activist, said that candidates could pick up votes from those migrants with Russian passports if they tried.
Dmitry Poletayev of the Center for Migration Research added that “after the intensive anti-migrant propaganda this summer, attitudes toward migrants in Moscow had become much worse even among employers who profit from their labor.”
Finally, Svetlana Gannushkina, chairman of the Civic Support Committee, suggested that the authorities were promoting xenophobia in order to “use it” to deflect protests against themselves and onto weak and often defenseless groups. Beyond that, she said, the regime does not have a migration policy.
“It is hysterical: today, we say one thing,” she concluded. “Tomorrow we say something else. The president confirms a concept regarding migration policy, but it is not being carried out.” Instead, the situation “is going in a completely opposite direction.”